Saturday, May 28, 2016

TIMETABLE (1956)


This may be the best of Mark Stevens’ productions. Stevens is solid, believable and with only a few details going amuck, is a highly rated B-movie. One of those details is the film opening to the relaxing sounds of an acoustic guitar more befitting a western or foreign film. Yet there is a speeding night train come right at you. There seems to be the sound of a sliding metal kitchen table across a floor with an abrupt music chord. Then back to guitar with the title splashed on the screen. Then back to orchestra. That is an editing worth looking into. The train sequences are the strongest part of the film, however. It lays out the slick detailed con for the audience.



Wesley Addy, playing a doctor without a license to practice for life, was busy in television and a few movies— “Kiss Me Deadly” perhaps his most famous project—is only in two scenes but his smooth, calming and authoritarian delivery belies his devious persona. When requested by a steward to check on a sick passenger, his diagnosis is that of polio and the train must stop short of the scheduled destination. Due to the severity of the illness he must have access to his medical bag in the baggage car. His medical bag comes equipped with a gun for house calls. At gunpoint he subdues the baggage personnel with a hypo, opens the safe and keeps the loot. An ambulance is arranged for the doctor, the patient and his wife. Everyone deboarding are all part of an elaborate heist orchestrated by Stevens.


Stevens’ character, as an insurance investigator, is specifically requested to investigate the crime for the company, throwing a wrench into his timetable. Joining him in the investigation is railroad investigator, King Calder. Practically unknown to moviegoers yet busy during the early years of television, he is excellent and so genuine one would think he really is an investigator. He has no awareness of studio cameras right in front of him. He simply inhabits the part. He and Stevens have a long working relationship. Calder is convinced there is no such thing as a perfect crime and he slowly unravels the crime one blackboard, one eraser and one person at a time. 



True to Calder’s belief, the mastermind’s perfect timetable is again disrupted when he meets up with his reason for the money, Felicia Farr. She is Addy’s on-screen wife who also played the fake patient’s wife. She tells him the money ended up in Addy’s possession, not in Mexico, after said fake patient died from accidentally shooting himself. It happens, I guess. Farr and Addy make their pre-planned Mexican escape. She squeaks by with the money and her life. He escapes with neither. 

Closing another loose end, Stevens murders a lead witness and conspirator, Alan Reed (voice of Fred Flintstone). From Calder’s perspective, the case appears frozen shut. A dead end.  He suggests Stevens and his wife finally take that Mexican vacation they have talked so much about. Stevens is thinking, “Wife? Whose wife?!” 

There is a nice twist that involves Stevens’ briefcase with his cut of the money.  As a surprise joke, his own wife has a key made for the case, substituting fishing line and travel magazines for his “work papers.” His briefcase was a surprise to her as well. Doing the right thing, she sends the loot to his insurance company. Their relationship instantly turns south of the border. While Stevens hyperventilates, he leaves for good. Calder pays the wife a visit and she reluctantly reveals Stevens’ lack of clock management skills. 

Stevens’ directing is not faultless. One detail that is not even questioned is that Stevens makes it look like Reed’s murder was a suicide. Except he is shot in the side. The slow suicide option. Secondly, in the opening heist, the script uses aliases for the thieves. With no lines or screen appearance, the fake patient’s name is not mentioned until later as the investigation unravels. When his name is mentioned one might wonder who they are talking about. Thirdly, Stevens could have shaved some minutes by cutting the set of “hot news” interview clips of the four hypo'd train employees. The repeated, single chord music cues gives each more credence than it deserves and serves no purpose to the viewer or the investigating team. Though standard fare of the era, the ending chase is drawn out a bit, especially knowing Stevens is doomed. Too many flights of stairs or alleys to go down.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

THE TURNING POINT (1952)


This film grabs you from the start with escort sirens blaring as district attorney, Edmond O’Brien, arrives in court with breaking news about inroads in bringing down a crime syndicate. Not as optimistic is news reporter and childhood friend, William Holden. He is skeptical of O’Brien’s approach to bring down crime boss, Ed Begley, who has half of San Francisco in his pocket and Holden can confirm it. Caught between Holden and O’Brien is the latter’s assistant and possible girl, Alexis Smith. Holden and Smith get off to a rocky start but it is clear her future could result in better looking children than with O’Brien. 

When O’Brien’s father, career cop Tom Tully, is selected as lead investigator he balks at first. We quickly learn why as cynical Holden decides to tail him to meetings with Begley and crew. Meanwhile, O’Brien is grilling Begley in a hearing and the situation looks bleak for Begley. The DA reveals his shadow company, on the ground floor of multi-purpose apartments. Begley’s books are located there. With the DA aligning the facts and soon connecting the dots, just burning the books is an obvious option. Begley makes the snap decision to blow up the entire building. Everyone will blame it on a recent report that the building had faulty gas lines. But even his henchmen, Ted De Corsia for one, is appalled he would do such a thing. In a ruthless, selfish and terrorist act, the entire building is set ablaze with surviving men, women and children moaning and crying in the explosion’s aftermath. One of the justifications for having the poster’s encircled advisory. O’Brien soon arrives and this becomes a pivotal scene for him and places an otherwise standard script over the top.

O’Brien feels his pressure on Begley is responsible for the carnage and he is ready to throw away all his hard work. Holden challenges him not to give up and in a huge blow of truth, reveals his father’s involvement and his demise which was planned by Begley, not a random robbery shooting. Enter Neville Brand, in his usual early psychotic hitman role, hired to take out their most dangerous foe, Holden. In the midst of a boxing arena. Good luck. Brand’s choice of weapon from a difficult vantage point and range is not his only frustration. The match ends quickly in a knockout, leaving Holden obscured by the exiting crowd.

Stellar performances by A-list actors is the main reason this film might be outside the B-movie category. “The Turning Point” is a well-worn script but an excellent, believable and fast-paced movie with standout roles for O’Brien, Holden and Begley. O’Brien especially reigns in his acting skills to a perfect level. Unsurprisingly, Ray Teal is in this film as he seemingly was in every film for over forty years. A Ray Teal film festival could run 24/7, two months straight.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

CRIME AGAINST JOE (1956)


Handsome John Bromfield plays the title character from a neighborhood where everyone has known him since childhood. It is a familiar story of guilty until proven innocent. In a nod to the twenty-first century, the nearly thirty-year-old Korean War vet still lives with mom. The neighborhood sees him as an out-of-work artist bum and frequent heavy drinker. He is so disgusted with his talent, he tells mother he is going to get drunk. Like his late father. She is very understanding.

His car ends up at a burger joint where his high school alum, Julie London, works as a car hop. Obviously drunk, she suggests he call a taxi from there. He requests his cabbie pal, Henry Calvin, to come and get him. Calvin keeps addressing London as his girl. That may be the first hard to believe moment. That London and rotund Calvin are an item. The second might be Bromfield as a drunk. It is a borderline comedy routine. Stumbling home in the early morning hours, he encounters Patricia Blair sleepwalking and kindly sees her home, her father answering the door. 


Not being depressed enough about his artistic talents, a girl is murdered who happens to have in her possession a high school class pin. Like the one Bromfield cannot locate. Blair’s father is called in as Bromfield’s time alibi. He is so embarrassed over his daughter’s sleep disorder he denies seeing ever seeing him. Bromfield’s past sessions for “battle fatigue” also go against him as does his frequency to destroy his unsuccessful female portrait paintings. Painting is hard. With no solid evidence but he being their only suspect, the condescending district attorney thinks they have their man. He does not understand art either. The third hard to believe moment is that the whole neighborhood thinks Bromfield should be run out of town on hearsay like so many other opinionated movie extras.  

London shows up with a bogus alibi to free him. The DA is incensed. Bromfield and London narrow down the high school pin suspects to a handful of former buddies. All of them prominent movers and shakers and none willing to help him. The film’s closing moments offer up a rapid twist, revealing the murderer.

Bromfield is always solid in his Bel-Air Production projects. His best probably being, “Hot Cars.” This film also benefits from location shooting, adding an historical look back for Los Angeles natives. London is not as polished. She just does not seem that interested in the role while posters try to sell the movie on her sultry figure. I was particularly amused by this poster, repeated to promote the "psycho effect," in which the advertising department tries to sell Bromfield as a mentally disturbed killer. Not only does the script railroad him so does this poster.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

MILLION DOLLAR PURSUIT (1951)


At sixty minutes, it is the perfect length for a B-movie. This Republic Pictures vehicle sets a good pace and has all the cliché elements you would expect. The virtually unknown British actor, Norman Budd, plays a small-time crook whose ego is bigger than his brains. Doing his best American tough guy routine. The mob has shut him out but he still thinks he can rise to the top again. Being the dreamer he is, Budd also thinks he has a girlfriend in Penny Edwards, a nightclub singer at the club he used to own with Grant Withers. Though without a spotless record, Withers is the current sole owner and has taken Edwards under his wing. This is the same girl who was previously engaged to police lieutenant, actor Steve Flagg, who wants her out of the mob and into his life again. She cannot commit to his second engagement proposal until she finds out who framed her for the resulting short prison term.

A department store executive, Don Beddoe, drops a set of keys one night and Budd picks them up. After a scuffle at the club he is thrown out, leaving the keys at the bar. His buddy bartender, Denver Pyle, returns them the next day. The wheels start turning in Budd's brain and contacts locksmith, Rhys Williams. He explains that it is a special key used for vaults and the like. Williams makes a duplicate key with plans to easily steal a million and Pyle wants in on it. The group grows to five but the robbery does not go well. A murder charge awaits one gang member. Plus, their take comes up 500K short and the bills are all marked. 

Panic sets in and Williams hopes Budd can get Withers to fence the useless bills for them. Withers arranges a meeting but Williams shows instead. Their location is overheard by the pretty singer who tells the handsome lieutenant. In typical fashion, gunshots buzz by automobile fenders and hoods, killing two human hoods in the process. Withers and his bodyguard also go down from bullets of one of the gang. Back at the hideout, a radio bulletin informs Pyle the other gang members were killed and thinks Budd had it planned all along. In another thoughtless reaction, Budd shoots Pyle in the back as he walks out on him. 

Figuring who tipped off the police, Budd returns to Edward’s apartment and in his anger tells her he framed her. She tries to settle him down but when that does not work, she manages to escape. He catches up with her in a warehouse. Imagine that? Now this rarely happens in crime films but she is held at gunpoint. Imagine that?! The lieutenant disarms the crook and they duke it out to a definitive end.

The acting is competent throughout with perhaps the exception of a melodramatic performance by Penny Edwards near the end being a bit overblown. Those scenes are more like we are watching a stage play. Denver Pyle is quite smooth and inhabits his character. Norman Budd’s short stature works pretty well as he tries to verbally cut everyone down to size with tough talk. He comes on strong but not over-the-top. His career was short as well, his last role just two years later.